A Culinary Legacy: Crafting the Perfect Traditional Cucuzzata

Explore Sicilian culinary heritage with this tradistional cucuzzata (candied pumpkin) recipe, born in 1600’s Palermo’s convents. We’ll delve into both the classic week-long tradition and a quicker method for delightful results. Join me in a sweet symphony where history and flavour converge.

Candied Pumpkin (Cucuzzata)

By: Silvana Lanzetta

Let’s talk about the delicious world of “cucuzzata” or “zuccata”β€” The Italian candied pumpkinβ€” a sweet star in Sicilian treats!Β  Back in the 1600s, Sicilian convents whipped up this delight using a unique squash called “virmiciddara.” Fast forward to today, and it’s still a Palermo favourite, especially in desserts like Sicilian cassata, Sicilian cannoli, Neapolitan pastiera, and the delightful struffoli.

In Palermo’s kitchens, this unique squash is a bit of a rarity, and not found in abundance. Some prefer the “long squash,” allowing it to mature perfectly before culinary creation. Now, in Naples, we don’t have access to these delightful squashes; instead, we rely on our beloved Neapolitan pumpkin. Interestingly, in industrial kitchens, they even utilise the white part of watermelon rind or blanched yellow squash. For your own twist, feel free to use any pumpkin indigenous to your region. Living in London, I opt for either butternut squash or the amazing pumpkins I find in the Middle Eastern shops near my son’s school, yielding fantastic results.

Now, the original method to whip up this “zuccata” is a bit of a marathon, taking more than a week. But fear not, there’s a quicker version too. I’m giving you both and you decide which one you prefer to make. In my kitchen, I go for the classic method, and trust me, it’s totally worth the time. Absolutely finger-licking!!!

Join me on this sweet journey into Sicilian culinary history and let’s make delicious candied pumpkin together!

One Name, Two Delights

In our culinary journey today, we’re diving into the recipe for the delightful Sicilian candied pumpkin known as cucuzzata. But in the beautiful island of  Sicily, the cucuzzata story doesn’t end there. There’s another mouthwatering cucuzzata treatβ€”a jam crafted from the unique virmicidarra pumpkin. Two distinct delights sharing the same name, both weaving their own delicious tales in Sicilian cuisine.

italian rice salad in a glass bowl overhead shot
serpentine snake squash from Sicily, called zucchina lunga

Long squash, the serpentine variety of calabash (bottle squash)

What does cucuzzata mean?

The word “cucuzzata”  finds its origins in the Southern Italian dialects, particularly in regions of Sicily and Naples.  It’s linked to the term “cucuzza,” which refers to a type of long, green squash. The term zuccata” derives from the Italian word “zucca,” which translates to pumpkin or squash. The suffix “-ata” indicates “made with.” So both zuccata and cucuzzata translate to made with pumpkin.

Cucuzza” and zucca have their roots in the Latin word “cucurbita,” which is a genus encompassing various squash species. Over time, this term evolved into the colloquial “cucuzza” in Southern Italy, and zucca in the rest of Italy.

oil preserved vegetables in 4 jars
a small bowl of sugar on a white table

Nutrition

 

Cucuzzata’s nutritional content varies based on factors like pumpkin variety and additional ingredients. It may provide vitamins A and C, along with minerals like potassium. These values are estimates, and actual nutritional content may differ. Enjoy in moderation, being mindful of the sugar content in this delightful treat.

  • Proteins 0% 0%
  • Carbs 100% 100%
  • Fats 0% 0%
candied pumpkin pieces close up

Ingredients for homemade cucuzzata (candied pumpkin)

Pumpkin

The traditional choice for the cucuzzata is the “virmiciddara” pumpkin. With its unique trumpet shape, this pumpkin is a local favourite, cherished for its dense and sweet flesh – perfect for candying.

Now, if this star isn’t in your culinary constellation, fear not! Long squash is nowadays widely used to prepare the sicilian sugared squash. While the taste may vary slightly, it offers a similar canvas for crafting a delicious candied pumpkin. The choice, of course,  depends on what’s available locally. But hey, if the traditional squad is elusive, here are some top contenders:

1.Butternut Squash:
– Known for its sweet and nutty flavour, it holds its own in both cooking and candying.

2. Kabocha Squash:
– Naturally sweet with a dense, smooth texture – a go-to for various culinary adventures, including candying.

3. Sugar Pumpkin:
– A naturally sweet and dense option, perfect for your candying exploits.

4. Hokkaido Squash (Red Kuri):
– Sweet and smooth, a stellar choice for preserving and candying.

5. Acorn Squash:
– Slightly sweet with a dense, fibrous texture, a worthy candidate for candying experiments.

So, roll up your sleeves and venture into your local market – the perfect squash or pumpkin awaits your “cucuzzata” masterpiece. Remember, taste is personal, so pick the variety that sings to your culinary soul!

 

Sugar

A classic choice is  granulated white sugar. Why? Its neutral taste lets your chosen pumpkin or squash variety take the spotlight with its natural sweetness.

Now, the sugar quantity? That’s the magic touch. You want to strike a balance – not too much, not too little – just enough to enhance the pumpkin’s sweetness without overpowering. Traditionally the amount of sugar is equal to the weight of the prepared and dried pumpkin.

However, feel free to play with sugar quantities or even try alternative sweeteners.

 

Cinnamon

Cinnamon, the unsung hero of “zuccata,” is the flavour maestro that transforms a simple sweet into a culinary masterpiece. It brings a warm and aromatic depth to the zuccata, that takes the candy from good to amazing: its sweet and slightly spicy notes enhance overall sweetness. Acting as a natural counterbalance, cinnamon prevents the dish from being overly sweet, providing a nuanced contrast. Its inclusion in traditional Sicilian recipes adds a timeless quality, making your candied pumpkin an authentic flavour experience. So, that teaspoon of cinnamon? It’s not just a spice – it’s the magic touch that makes each bite uniquely delicious and comforting.

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Candied pumpkin pieces in a rattan basket. Cucuzzata. Sugared pumpkin

Sicilian candied pumpkin


  • Author: Silvana Lanzetta
  • Diet: Vegan

Ingredients

Units Scale
  • 1 kg of “virmiciddara” pumpkin, long zucchini, or pumpkin of your choice (see notes)
  • 1 kg of sugar
  • 12 teaspoons of ground cinnamon
  • Salt (as much as needed)

Instructions

Traditional Recipe

  1. Slice the pumpkin into approximately eight-centimetre-thick (3 inches) pieces. Divide them into four parts and remove the seeds and the skin.
  2. Place the pumpkin pieces in a colander, sprinkle with abounded salt, cover with a plate and apply a weight on top (e.g. a filled bottle), and let them rest for three days to release excess liquid.
  3. After three days, rinse the pumpkin and soak it in water for another three days, changing the water at least twice a day.
  4. Blanch the pumpkin for 5-10 minutes and place it in cold water for a day.
  5. After draining and drying the pumpkin, weigh it, and use an equal weight of sugar. Combine the pumpkin with sugar and cinnamon in a pot, then cook over low heat for approximately twenty minutes.
  6. Place the pumpkin along with its liquid in a pot, allowing it to rest for a day. Subsequently, cook the pumpkin in the pot over medium heat for five minutes; repeat this process five times (over 5 days)
  7. Store the “zuccata” in a well-sealed sterilised container; its high sugar content ensures a long shelf life.

Quick Recipe

  1. Slice the pumpkin into approximately eight-centimetre-thick (3 inches) pieces. Divide them into four parts and remove the seeds and the skin.
  2. Immerse the pumpkin pieces in salted water for about 3 hours.
  3. After the 3 hours, rinse them thoroughly in abundant water to remove salt residues and let them drain until completely dry.
  4. Place the pieces in a sufficiently large pot with boiling water. Cook over low heat, ensuring they soften but remain firm (about 5-10 minutes)
  5. Drain the pumpkin pieces well and return them to the pot over low heat. Add sugar and a generous sprinkle of cinnamon. Cook until the sugar is absorbed, ensuring the pieces are covered in a thick layer of crystallized and glazed sugar. Allow it to cool.

Notes

Best pumpkin alternatives for this recipe are: Butternut Squash, Kabocha Squash, Sugar Pumpkin, Hokkaido Squash (Red Kuri), Acorn Squash

In the traditional method, water is drawn out from the courgettes through osmosis with the use of salt, letting the pumpkin rest for 3 days. To remove excess salt, is necessary to soak them for an additional 3 days, changing water often.

Consider dipping the candied pumpkin pieces in melted chocolate for a delectable treat. Once set, experience the uniquely divine flavour!

  • maturation time:
  • Category: Vegetables
  • Method: slow food
  • Cuisine: Italian
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Silvana Lanzetta

Silvana Lanzetta

β€œCiao, I’m Silvana, a fourth-generation pasta artisan from Napoli with a lifetime of experience! I began making pasta at the tender age of 5 under the watchful eye of my pasta-making generalissimo, my granny. Through her guidance, I’ve become a master in crafting traditional pasta dishes. Since 2014, I have been teaching pasta making classes in London, sharing my expertise with aspiring pasta enthusiasts. I’ve also had the privilege of showcasing my knowledge on BBC and in national newspapers like The Sun and iNews, and held pasta making demonstration in Harrods. Join me in exploring the world of Italian pasta and let’s create unforgettable culinary experiences together!”

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